The missed opportunity

In reading Matt Webb’s presentation at We Love Technology, I was struck by one of his side notes: his comment about missed television. He said,

My experience of missed-TV has become a social one. Even if someone doesn’t have the programme I’m after, we have an excuse to talk. It’s engaging because it taps into something which is already engaging: being social and hanging out with my friends.

Though we don’t usually design for missing, we innovate uses of things for missing… because missing affords different kinds of interactions. Missing a TV show means that Matt loses one interaction (with a television program) but gains another social one,

Or sometimes, when I call someone’s number, I specifically intend to miss them and leave a message. Haven’t you ever called someone with the intention of missing them, only to catch them? “Oh! I’m sorry — I just wanted to reach your voice mail.”  

Many people, especially in places where mobile calls are expensive, call someone with the intention that the recipient not pick up. Missed calls, beeping, or flashing all refer to communicating to someone that you have called or that you want them to call you. Jonathan Donner, who I am working with, writes about how this functions in Rwanda. It’s sometimes a complex dance as the less affluent person tries
to get the more affluent person to pick up the call.

Every alternative weekly — and of course, Craig’s List, has an exciting business based on the missed connection. I was the lucky recipient of one once when I was on the cover of the San Francisco Chronicle Datebook section for a flash mob I
took part in. A friend forwarded me the note listing. I had a boyfriend at the time but had a beer with the guy anyway (he later turned out to be friends with another friend. SF is small.)

A side note about Matt Webb: some of my favorite conversations over the last few years have been with Mr. Webb. He’s one of the most thoughtful people I know. I’m reminded of the moment at Design Engaged 2004 when I got stuck at the other end of a long table in a boring conversation. I disengaged myself and went down to Matt’s end of the table. “Oh, I’m glad you joined us,” Matt said, “We were just talking about the nature of
good and evil.”

And then, we had a long, thoughtful conversation about just that.



Originally uploaded by PinkHamsters.

Fuga offered a preview to architects and designers of its new club in Bangalore. Carolyn and I went along. The club is really something: so many different materials and textures at play and dramatic lighting. It felt more like something I’ve seen in Amsterdam (the Supper Club because of the white) than what I’d expect to see in Bangalore.

Aditya announced we should all hit the dance floor before things shut down for the evening. Police cracked down recently on dancing in Bangalore, so it seemed like a good idea. That’s me; Carolyn snapped the picture.

Thoughts at the end of my second week

It’s Friday, the end of my second work week (and my ninth day) in Bangalore. When I got sick on Sunday and then the bombings in Mumbai happened, I didn’t update the way that I otherwise might have. Not a surprise… that’s what happens when you’re busy being somewhere. So let me cover a few highlights.

Last Friday, Archana invited me over to her flat for a get-together with some of her friends. Archana seems to be the connector to many things and people: her friends were just one hop away from projects or people I knew. Not surprisingly, she knows Jasmeen, who I’d been keen to meet (and had drafted an unsent email to her shortly before I left the US). She is a founder of the Blank Noise Project, which raises awareness about eve-teasing (the Indian
term for harassment of women) through installations, happenings and events. She’s enjoyed a fair bit of press and media buzz around her work, which is how I had heard of her in the US.

Jasmeen’s boyfriend, whose name I’m afraid I don’t know how to spell, is doing work in Processing on hydrology and sound. (He also lived in San Francisco). Of course, he knows of William Martin, one of my friends from Yale, who used Processing for acoustic modeling. Other friends joined as the evening went on, including Udai, an MSR researcher who works on a multimouse computer system for educational
settings in developing and emerging economies. From Archana’s comfortable flat, we went for biryani, and then milkshakes (I had a rose-flavored one: refreshing!). Everything shuts down early in Bangalore, thanks to a recent police crackdown, and we all had early Saturday mornings.

On Wednesday, I met the person John Thackara, Heather and danah told me to meet: Aditya dev Sood. He runs the Center for Knowledge Societies, an interaction design and ethnography practice focusing on emerging markets (India in particular) and technologies (primarily the mobile). He seems to know many people I do and travel in the same broad
circles. Plus, he studied architecture and is now completing his Ph.d. in anthropology. No shortage of conversation topics there.

Last night, I saw Aparna Rao. She is a Bangalore native who graduated from Ivrea in 2004. I’ve always liked her work. It’s beautiful with lots of attention to detail, but it’s provocative as well. Her Uncle Phone is one outstanding example. We caught up about people but more importantly, about life.

I’m not even mentioning the community in my flat, with Carolyn, Asha, Satiya, and Paul. That’s been outstanding. Last weekend’s shopping, going out excursions, and in-flat conversations were various permutations of us. It’s nice to have a comfortable home situation here.

Tonight, a reception for an architecture office. Tomorrow, a short film festival. The people I’ve met are turning me onto the design scene in Bangalore, which is exciting. I’m wondering where I might pitch an article about contemporary design here. All in all, I’ve been happy to reconnect with, meet and get to know people who have these interests. It’s an exciting view of the town.

Bridging networks and gender gaps

Mike posts about attempting to invite women to Sketching 06, the hardware prototyping conference he put on a few weeks ago. Though he made an attempt to invite women outside of his personal network, only one of 30 women invitees outside his network was able to attend. Rather than answering on his site, I wanted to muse on it here for two reasons–he and I have already had extensive conversations
about this (he alludes to the feedback I’ve shared in his post).

The issue Mike raises is akin to several other conversations going on in different places: the Women in Architecture group at Yale School of Architecture, on the Institute of Distributed Creativity list, in a conversation I’ve had with Peter about IDEA 2006 and his frustrations
with the usual suspects
 at conferences, and a piece I’m working on about women seeming to disappear from Web 2.0, at least on a leadership level. Why don’t women attend, speak up, take positions of leadership? How do you go outside of who you know to create something new?

Here’s an analogy. Say you’re inviting a wedding. You’d like to have 90 people there with a good mix of the bride and the groom’s nearest and dearest. You’d even like it to be 50/50. But as it happens, the groom’s family lives in Sydney and the wedding is in San Francisco. You would probably have to invite more of the groom’s side in order to reach 50/50, given that it’s far away. As you created the invitation list, you might stack the groom’s A, B and C lists with more people than the bride, figuring that you’d
need to invite more. Beyond that, though, it’s not a huge wedding. You don’t merely want to hit a number. There are other criteria. You don’t want to invite people who feel too foreign, who behave badly at weddings, who are awkward, who you don’t talk to anymore.

Essentially, there are two things at stake. One is a numbers game. There needs to be more people on the list. Keep a big list of women who do what you do. Anne Galloway keeps such a list as a resource to our broader communities. If yours is more specific, gather it and publish it. Consider people you haven’t heard as a speaker but whose work you admire. The same people tend to speak because they’re in the loop or they self-promote. There
are many other people whose names aren’t on lists, who aren’t speaking because they’re shy, they’re working, they don’t work at the main institutions. Shake the tree. Ask professors, managers. Look at bibliographies and footnotes. Pull in people in fields similar but not the same as yours. Don’t stop with gender: consider race as well. Dolores Hayden recently pointed out to the Yale Women in Architecture group that if you’re creating a list of women in leadership
positions in architecture for future juries, studios and speakers, also create a list of people of color. Cultivate your lists alive and actually use them.

The second is a networks issue (and reminds me of Peter’s lament). Did Mike contact the top 10 electrical engineering schools to see whether there were people there who might have been interested, or any women in electrical engineering groups? Was he able to contact professors aside from the ones he already was working with to see if there were students or researchers he didn’t know about? Did Peter call architecture schools? Since IDEA is about space and information design, Peter and I had a conversation in
which I suggested people from the field of architecture. Both of these examples require bridging between fields, between a dotcom, camp approach to organizing and the rigors of the fields these fields draw from.

However, both Mike and Peter might have found the same thing. Even if they had contacted engineering or architecture schools, would it have yielded anything? Would electrical engineering students find Sketching relevant to how they approach prototyping? Does an architect want to discuss information design or information architecture (a phrase that makes architects of buildings cringe)? With the limited travel budgets that most academics see (or for that matter, that most professionals or students see), might
they people have been able to attend? Or do they need to save the trip for the major meeting of their discipline? Do they care? Or is this not even on their radar, irrelevant?

I do consider the times that someone new has come to an event and they knock my socks off with a point of view I’d not heard before (like hearing Eyal Weizman at PLAN 2005, or meeting Matt Ward at Design Engaged, or Anne Galloway at SXSW 2003)… I would love more of
those moments …

Choosing one means not choosing another

In coming to India, there are two things I really wanted to do this summer but can’t: Futuresonic, which is hosting the PLAN’s Social Technologies Summit, and ISEA 2006, with its Interactive City Summit. Both are events that everybody seems to be a part of. Both have had outstanding precedents
and it pains me to miss them. But to attend either means missing not doing my research in Bangalore, on one hand, or to leave too early, on the other. I chose to be here for the experience of spending a longer-than-a-vacation period of time in India. But ouch! So many things I’m missing.

About the last PLAN conference… I attended the February 2005 PLAN conference in London, where I heard the most stimulating talk I heard that year.Eyal Weizman spoke about the Deleuzian brigadier-generals in the Israeli Army– the Frieze article linked here is very similar to the talk he gave in London at that time. Weizman talks about
how the army studies ways to subvert space (if you see him speak, he’ll show interviews on video). Shimon Naveh, the founder of the Operational Theory Research Institute says,

We are like the Jesuit Order. We attempt to teach and train soldiers to think. […] We read Christopher Alexander, can you imagine?; we read John Forester, and other architects. We are reading Gregory Bateson; we are reading Clifford Geertz. Not myself, but our soldiers, our generals are reflecting on these kinds of materials. We have established a school and developed a curriculum that trains operational architects.

(via Ramage)

Shared mobiles and the Mumbai blasts

As I’ve mentioned, in India, I’m researching how people share mobile phones and the according manifestations of it in space and territory.

There’s one instance of it right now in Mumbai, with the bomb blasts last night that killed 183 and injured 714. As happened with terrorist attacks in London last year, people are organizing online to check in with and contact people’s families. Dina Mehta reported on a number of these efforts on her blog. Also, generated because of the attacks, there are a blog and wiki where
people are placing information and coordinating calls to mobile phones. The Mumbai metroblog also posts information, linking to other sources in the traditional and non-traditional media.

Again, nothing totally new with this, but people are lending mobiles to each other. It’s a different sharing modality than my research but also is important. It is generated by need and emergency–people are using their mobiles to call the mobiles of people they don’t know but are listed as missing on the websites above. Though I’ve not yet found direct accounts, I figure people shared mobiles and called their loved ones to or from the stations and the hospitals. And finally, it’s an event that took
place in particular places at a specific time.

Mumbai bombing information and recovery sites

Steve Portigal forwarded me a few sites that are doing something to help the recovery effort. He says:

This site shows just one thread where people are talking about trying to reach each other and they are helping make connections whent he phone lines are down.

Also, Mumbai Help shows the news unfolding, with Mumbai’s terrible, gridlocked traffic and other strange and terrible events indirectly or directly caused by the bombing.

Safe in Bangalore

I was exhausted last night and went straight to bed after dinner at Jonathan’s. That’s why I missed the news of the blasts in Mumbai (Bombay): serial blasts across the city during rush hour. 164 people were killed. It seems to be the work of two Islamic militant groups, one Pakistani, the other a student group in Mumbai, working in concert with each other in Mumbai’s state. (More specifically, Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and activists of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI)).

I am in Bangalore, not Mumbai. Bangalore is about 1000 km, or 600 miles from Mumbai (and I sense that it’s a world away in many ways). So I’m fine–we’re all fine–here in Bangalore. I hope the same will be the case for the families and friends of the people I work with and have gotten to know in the week I’ve been here. Will report more soon.

They call it Delhi belly

I had planned to write about the last several days, about Arachna and her lovely friends, about my flatmates and apartment house mates, with whom I’ve formed a little community, about going to the bar with the great view, of the auto rickshaws and shopping and walking.

Instead, I’m wiped out. Not sure what it was I ate or drank, but I got stomach cramps and diarrhea. I’ve been being very careful and was sure it wouldn’t happen this quickly. The Yale Travel Clinic nurse was adamant that I take antibiotics at the first sign of a bug. I waited a bit–would it subside? But I gave into the meds. My flatmate Carolyn brought me club soda and I’m thrilled.

And I’m going to miss the final game of the World Cup. I’m going to be sleeping. I’m wiped out enough to not really care. Someone, just tell me who wins.